Shoot-Around Report: Thunder 'Ready to Play'

DALLAS -- The wait is over. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks is tonight (8 p.m., ESPN).

Spend any time with Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks or his players, and you would think Oklahoma City has had nine days off since it last played a game.

Of course, that is not the case. The Thunder played on Sunday, when it secured its place in the Western Conference Finals with a Game 7 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Mavericks, however, last played on May 8 when they completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Usually when you have a veteran team, you like days off. That's always been the rule of thumb," Brooks said. "We don't have a veteran team. We have a young, energetic, athletic team that loves to play and wants to play every night."

Added forward Nick Collison: "We're excited, we're loose and we're ready to play."

The Thunder knows the challenge it faces. The Mavericks are a veteran team playing with a lot of confidence, especially on their home court, where they are unbeaten in five games. Dallas set an NBA Playoffs record with 20 3-pointers in its Game 4 victory over the Lakers and shot 46.2 percent (49-for-106) from behind the 3-point line in the series.

"We have an incredible challenge in front of us," Brooks said. "We're focused. We will throw everything at them and see where it takes us. One of the things we'll do is go at them and leave everything on the floor.

"Our identity is playing with toughness, playing with a defensive mind-set and scoring off of our defense," he said. "At times we're not the prettiest offensive team, but we're getting better. Our goal all along was to be a defensive team."

Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who last week was named All-NBA for the 11th consecutive season, has been a popular subject for Brooks and his staff in their game-planning sessions. Brooks has said that multiple players will spend time guarding the 7-foot Nowitzki, starting with Serge Ibaka and continuing with Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and others.

But the Thunder presents match-up problems, too. Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said he will use mulitple players to defend both Russell Westbrook and Durant.

A common story line in this series is the Thunder's youth vs. the Mavericks' experience. But that topic isn't getting a lot of support from either Brooks or Carlisle, who used the phrase "seasoned" when talking about the Thunder and its post-season run.

Said Brooks: "Experience, it's always good to have. We feel we have good experience. I know our guys are young, but Kevin's been in the league for four years and Russell for three. They've been in big games. They went to Turkey with Team USA and won there.

"If the game is going to be won because they have more experience, we're not going to be able to compete at that level. But I don't think the game is won because you have more experience. The game is won by who executes, who plays harder, who makes the big plays down the stretch. Our guys are capable of doing that. ... We're not here just because we're young and athletic. I think we're here because we're solid. We play solid basketball on both ends of the floor."